The Facts

Gun licence issued for recreational hunting and vermin control

In 2001, a man was issued with a gun licence on the basis that he had the genuine reasons of recreational hunting and vermin control.

From that date until 2014, the licensee had renewed or re-applied for the gun licence as necessary.

The licensee leased property S, near Gunnedah, for grazing his livestock.

He would sometimes stay at property S. The rest of the time he lived with his mother at property N.

Police attend break and enter at property and find licensee's rifle on bed

The licensee's friend, Ms L, had been staying at property S on and off for eight months, when on 27 December 2014 she reported a break and enter at the property.

Earlier that morning, the licensee had left property S and driven to property N to collect his rifle from safe storage in order to put down a sick sheep at property S.

Returning to property S just prior to the police arriving, the man entered the house and placed the rifle on the bed in his room.

When the police arrived, the sergeant on duty saw the rifle on the bed, asked the licensee why it was there and informed him that it needed to be locked away.

After conducting interviews, the police confiscated the rifle, along with ammunition found in the house.

Gun licence suspended and then revoked

On 30 December 2014, the licensee was served with a notice suspending his firearms licence on the basis of public interest.

On 12 February 2015, he was charged under the NSW Firearms Act 1996 ("the Act") with failure to keep a firearm safely and holding a Category A or B licence without approved storage.

On 28 March 2015, after he had been charged with these offences, his gun licence was revoked.

The licensee sought an internal review of that decision, and on 2 July 2015, the decision was affirmed by the Commissioner of Police. In August 2015 the man applied to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) for a review of the Commissioner's decision to revoke his gun licence.

Offences under Firearms Act do not result in conviction

The licensee entered a plea of guilty to the firearms safety and storage offences and was convicted of both charges on 6 November 2015.

The licensee then asked the court to redetermine the charges on the basis of a plea of not guilty.

His request was heard by the Local Court on 9 March 2016, with the court dismissing the first charge and finding the licensee guilty of the second charge without a conviction.

Appeal against revocation of gun licence follows non-convictions on gun safety charges

When the appeal against the revocation of the gun licence was heard by NCAT in July 2016, the tribunal had to determine whether the licence could be reinstated, given that the firearms safety and storage charges against the man had not resulted in convictions by the court.

case a - The case for the Commissioner of Police

case b - The case for the licensee

  • There are several grounds under the Act that justify my decision to revoke the licensee's gun licence.
  • First, the licensee contravened the Act by failing to take all reasonable precautions to ensure the safe storage of his firearms, including the requirement to store them in a locked receptacle of an approved type. When interviewed by the police, the licensee conceded that he kept his rifle unattended and unsecured at property S, including in his bedroom, behind a cupboard and on his bed and that he left ammunition unattended and unsecured at the property as well.
  • Secondly, the licensee is not a fit and proper person to hold a gun licence, as is evidenced by his continued demonstration of a poor attitude and his disregard for public safety. In an interview with the police, the licensee admitted that he keeps a rifle with him at property S "all the time", although his safe storage address is at property N and there is no gun safe at property S. Ms L also gave evidence that the licensee kept a gun at property S at all times.
  • Thirdly, it is not in the public interest for the licensee to continue to hold a gun licence. As the tribunal has noted in the past, "The [Act] requires strict compliance precisely because misuse of firearms can result in catastrophic consequences." Although the licensee's rifle and ammunition were not stolen during this particular break-in, it is conceivable, and indeed a very real risk, that intruders could have stolen the unsecured rifle and/or ammunition.
  • Given that the licensee has contravened the Act, is not a fit and proper person to hold a gun licence and would pose a risk to public safety if he were to hold one, the tribunal should uphold my decision to revoke his licence.
  • The Commissioner of Police relied on the criminal proceedings of 2015 to conclude that I had contravened the Act, thereby justifying the revocation of my gun licence. However, since I successfully challenged those convictions, the Commissioner's reliance on the proceedings was inappropriate.
  • The Commissioner of Police contends that I am not a fit and proper person to hold a gun licence and that it would be against public safety for me to hold a licence. However, my actions before, during and after the day of the break-in contradict these assertions.
  • Prior to the break-in, I normally stored my rifle at property N in a locked safe as required by the Act. The police even inspected the safe after the break-in and found that it complied with the firearms legislation.
  • As I only stayed at property S occasionally, I had not yet installed firearms storage at the premises by the day of the break-in. However, I have since done so and this risk will not arise again. There is no risk to public safety.
  • It is because I stored my rifle safely at property N that I had to drive there to retrieve it on the morning of the break-in. My plan was to use the rifle to put down a sick sheep. I was only inside the house at property S with the rifle because I went in to make sure that Ms L was okay. Further, I made sure to have the firing bolt and magazine on my person so that the gun could not be used by anyone else. I also complied with the police officer's instructions to disassemble the rifle and put it out of view.
  • I also deny the statements made by Ms L that I kept a gun at property S at all times. As I always keep my rifle with me, the only time a firearm would be at the premises would be when I was also there, which was rarely.
  • Further, I was unwell on the day of these events, and my thinking was partially impaired, which may have contributed to any carelessness I may have exhibited on that day.
  • Finally, it is in the public interest for me to hold a firearms licence, since I am primary producer. Owning a firearm will enable me to deal with the wild dog and fox attacks that inflict harm on my livestock.
  • Given that I have not committed any contravention of the Act, am a fit and proper person and am not a threat to the public interest, the tribunal should reinstate my gun licence.

So, which case won?

Cast your judgment below to find out

Nick Burton
Criminal law
Stacks Collins Thompson

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.